Best of 2019: 10 Showmax hits from Africa and its diaspora that made waves internationally this year. Showmax is an online subscription video on demand service which launched in South Africa on 19 August 2015.
RAMY | COMEDY SERIES
Ramy Hassan (stand-up comedian Ramy Youssef) is a first generation Egyptian-American in politically-divided New Jersey, where he’s caught between a Muslim community that thinks life is a moral test and a millennial generation that thinks life has no consequences.
The breakout diaspora series ends in Egypt, but as Youssef says, “There’s this narrative that comes from certain places in America: ‘Go back where you came from; that’s where you belong.’ Sometimes you have this idea of, you know, ‘What if I went back there? Everything would make sense.’ And it doesn’t.”
Ramy was hailed by The New York Times as “a quietly revolutionary comedy,” “generous, profound… a must-see new sitcom” by Entertainment Weekly and “an essential voice for millennial TV” by Wired.
Egyptian Oscar nominee Jehane Noujaim (The Square) is one of the directors, Emmy nominee Dan Romer (Beasts of the Southern Wild) is the composer, the multi-award-winning Hiam Abbas (Succession, Blade Runner 2049) plays Ramy’s mother, and Hulu recently renewed the hit comedy for a second season, which will guest star two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, Green Book).
- Won Audience Award: Episodic, SXSW, 2019
- #14, The 15 Best TV Shows of the 2010s, Mashable
- #29 on Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the best shows of 2019
- 97% critics rating, Rotten Tomatoes | 8/10, IMDB
THE RIVER | TELENOVELA
1Magic’s thrill-a-minute telenovela The River sees two different but interdependent worlds collide in spectacular fashion. One side of the river is home to exquisite mansions populated by society’s upper crust, who will go to any lengths to maintain their wealth; the other by those who have little to show for their hard work.
At the 2019 SAFTAs, Moshidi Motshegwa won Best Actress as Malefu; Presley Chweneyagae won Best Actor as Cobra; and Lawrence Maleka won Best Supporting Actor as Zolani. Other stars include Sindi Dlathu, Hlomla Dandala, Don Mlangeni and newcomer Larona Moagi. Just be warned: the body count is high in this one, so don’t get too attached to anyone…
- Nominated as Best Telenovela at the 2019 International Emmy Awards
- The most awarded production at the 2019 SAFTAs, taking home 11 golden horns, including Best Telenovela
ZOG | ANIMATED SHORT
Zog is the keenest but clumsiest pupil in his class at Dragon School, where he longs to win a gold star as he learns how to fly, roar and breathe fire. He keeps meeting a kindly young girl who patches up his bumps and bruises, but can she help him with his trickiest school assignment yet: capturing a princess?
Animated in Cape Town by Triggerfish for the UK’s Magic Light Pictures, the 27-minute animated short captures the magic of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s bestselling picture book, with an all-star voice cast including the likes of Kit Harrington, Sir Lenny Henry and Tracey Ullman. It’s co-directed by multi-award-winning South African Daniel Snaddon (Stick Man) and two-time Oscar nominee Max Lang (The Gruffalo and Room On The Broom).
- Just nominated for Best Special Production and Best Storyboarding for the 2020 Annie Awards
- Nominated for Best Kids Animation at the 2020 International Emmy Kids Awards
- Won Best Animation, Shanghai International TV Festival, 2019
- Won Audience Award: 3-6, New York International Children’s Film Festival, 2019
STROOP | WILDLIFE DOCUMENTARY
Stroop: Journey into the Rhino Horn War is a gripping wildlife crime thriller of a documentary that takes the viewer on a rollercoaster ride between Africa and Asia. Two first-time filmmakers, award-winning editor Susan Scott (The Last Lions) and 50/50 presenter Bonné de Bod, embed themselves on the frontlines of the rhino poaching crisis, where they are given exclusive access to the war as it unfolds on the ground. Carving out six months for the project, the two women quickly find themselves immersed in a world far larger and more dangerous than they had imagined, only emerging from their odyssey four years later.
- Won Best of Festival, The International Wildlife Film Festival 2019
- Winner of 26 awards to date, most recently the 2019 SANParks Kudu Award for Best Television Journalism
- Shortlisted for the presenter and impact awards at Jackson Wild 2019, arguably the Oscars of the wildlife film world
LIYANA | DOCUMENTARY
Liyana is a genre-defying documentary that tells the story of five children in the Kingdom of Eswatini who, with some guidance from South African storyteller Gcina Mhlope, turn past trauma into an original fable about a girl named Liyana, who embarks on a perilous quest to save her young twin brothers. The film weaves Liyana’s animated journey together with poetic documentary scenes to create an inspiring tale of perseverance and hope.
Liyana is the directorial debut of Swaziland-born and raised Aaron Kopp, with his wife Amanda. Before moving into directing, Aaron shot the Oscar-winning documentary Saving Face and the Oscar-nominated The Hunting Ground.
Liyana is executive produced by Emmy winner Thandie Newton (Westworld), produced by Oscar winner Daniel Junge (Saving Face), and edited by Davis Coombe (Chasing Coral, Chasing Ice). Nigerian Shofela Coker created the stunning animated artwork, while South African Philip Miller composed the score.
Entertainment Weekly hailed it as “Gorgeous. Unlike any documentary you’ve ever seen,” while The Hollywood Reporter praised it as “A lyrical work, as bright and captivating as it is poignant.”
- Winner of 35 awards
- Shofela Coker was nominated for a prestigious Cinema Eye Honours Award for Animation this year
MUNKI AND TRUNK | ANIMATED SERIES
Produced in Cape Town by Sunrise Productions, Munki and Trunk is a dialogue-free 3D animated TV series for kids aged four to seven, and animals of all ages.
Munki is a bold, banana-juggling adventurer. Trunk is a big-hearted and optimistic elephant. These best friends do everything together – swinging, stomping and somersaulting as they explore their jungle world, hatching plans, solving problems, having fun and helping friends along the way.
- Over 2m YouTube subscribers to the JungleBeat – Munki and Trunk channel
- Over 860m YouTube views on the JungleBeat – Munki and Trunk channel
EVERYTHING MUST FALL | DOCUMENTARY
Directed by Rehad Desai, who won the International Emmy Award for Best Documentary for Miners Shot Down, Everything Must Fall is an unflinching look at the #FeesMustFall student movement that burst onto the South African political landscape in 2015 as a protest over the cost of education. The story is told by four student leaders at Wits University and their Vice Chancellor, Adam Habib, a left-wing, former anti-apartheid student activist. When Habib’s efforts to contain the protest fail, he brings 1 000 police onto campus, with dire consequences for the young leaders…
- Won The Vaclav Havel Award, One World Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, 2019
- Won Best Documentary & Best Documentary Director, SAFTAs, 2019
BUDDHA IN AFRICA | DOCUMENTARY
In a Chinese Buddhist orphanage in Africa, a Malawian teenager finds himself torn between his African roots and Chinese upbringing. Once the star performer with dreams of becoming a martial arts hero like Jet Li, Enock is now in his final year of school and has to make some tough decisions about his future. Will he return to his relatives in his home village or study abroad in Taiwan?
Directed by South African Nicole Schafer, Buddha in Africa was praised by Variety as “a sensitive portrayal of a young man torn between the kung-fu dreams and Confucian doctrine of his Buddhist upbringing, and a Malawian culture whose powerful roots might ultimately be holding him back… A complicated portrait of what’s been described as the latest chapter in Africa’s long struggle against colonization.”
- Screened at IDFA 2019, arguably the world’s top documentary festival, as part of their prestigious Best Of Fests line-up
- Won Best South African Documentary at this year’s Durban International Film Festival
- Screened at HotDocs 2019 – North America’s top documentary festival
- Opening night film at Encounters South African International Documentary Festival
THE HERD S1-2 | SERIES
Twenty-eight years ago, Bhekisizwe Mthethwa (Sello Maake Ka Ncube) was fired from his job at a butchery due to his leg injury. With no job and a hungry wife and baby, Bheki sought out the guidance of the local witch, MaMngadi (Winnie Ntshaba), who promised him a bright future if he was willing to make a great sacrifice.
When we meet Bheki in the present, he’s married to MaMngadi, with three more children, Muzi (Sparky Xulu), Nkosana (Paballo Mavundla) and Dumazile (Cindy Mahlangu). But when Bheki must choose a successor to his cattle business, his big sacrifice still weighs heavily on his soul, even as his children go into battle over what each believes to be rightfully theirs.
- Won Jury’s Special Prize, Seoul International Drama Awards, 2019
BUT THE REAL PRIZE IS LOCAL AUDIENCES
Of course, international awards aren’t the holy grail for African productions: local audiences are. 2019 has seen a number of landmark breakthroughs in that regard, from Showmax’s second Original, the boarding school murder mystery The Girl From St Agnes, to M-Net’s co-production with Cinemax and ZDF, the Deon Meyer adaptation Trackers, to Big Brother Naija, which generated a record 240m votes.
THE GIRL FROM ST AGNES – MURDER MYSTERY SERIES
Other audience favourites on Showmax in South Africa included the crime series Die Byl; the telenovela The Queen; the precolonial epic Ifalakhe; the supernatural crime series Die Spreeus; Dream: The Lebo Mathosa Story; the reality series The Real Housewives of Johannesburg, Being Bonang, Trippin with Skhumba, The Bachelor South Africa, Boer Soek ‘n Vrou, and Survivor South Africa; the Comedy Central Roast of AKA and Tali’s Wedding Diary, Showmax’s debut Original which was the most awarded comedy at the SAFTAs this year.
TRACKERS | ACTION SERIES
2019 also marked the first time South African audiences could stream the likes of Kanarie, one of Indiewire’s 14 Best LGBTQ International Films of 2018, and Whispering Truth To Power, the Thuli Madonsela documentary that won the Special Jury Prize at Hot Docs 2018.
Image Courtesy: twitter.com/dstv